The convention was inspired by the experiences of a Swiss businessman, Henri Dunant, who witnessed the sufferings of 40,000 soldiers wounded during a bloody conflict in 1859 between French and Austrian armies near the northern Italian town of Solferino. There was no mechanism in place to arrange truces to retrieve the wounded, who were typically left to perish of their wounds or of thirst.
Dunant rallied nearby vilagers to render what relief they could, insisting on impertiality between the sides. He later wrote a book, A Memory of Solferino, that described the horrors he had seen and called for the establishment of civilian volunteer relief corps to care for the wounded in battle.
In 1863, the Geneva Society for Public Welfare took up his cause and created a committee of five, which became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 1864, this committee brought together the representatives of 16 European states who adopted the first Geneva Convention, a treaty designed to save lives, alleviate the suffering of wounded and sick military personnel, and protect civilians in the act of rendering aid. The conference also established the red cross on a white field (the reverse of the Swiss flag) as the protective emblem for those serving the wounded.
See also: Geneva Convention